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10 Cute Animated Movies That Are Actually Completely Traumatizing

The Other Mother looms over Coraline with a menacing smile (Focus Features)

Remember being a kid and picking out a cute cartoon-y movie you had no clue you weren’t ready for? You sat down in front of the TV all looking forward to a good time and then … AND THEN. Oops, you’re scarred for life. Maybe you saw Coraline and you vowed to never touch or think about buttons again. Well, here are ten animated films with the same scare levels as Coraline but they press different, uh, buttons.

The Last Unicorn

The Unicorn faces down the Red Bull (Rankin/Bass Productions)
(Rankin/Bass Productions)

A beautiful movie that’s beautifully terrifying. Many a child who watched this was tormented by nightmares of the Red Bull (no, not the drink) for weeks afterward. But this film invokes a terror that goes far beyond the fear of monsters: the very adult fear of being all alone in the world while trapped in a position you neither wanted nor asked for.

Toy Story 3

Woody, Buzz and the other toys hold each other as they slide down the trash pile to the incinerator (Disney)

A children’s film about getting old and feeling like you’re no longer wanted. What … fun? This is the film that treated us to the sight of Woody, Buzz, Jessie and all our beloved toy friends clinging to each other as they slowly descend into a hell-like furnace. Oh, they’re saved at the last minute of course, but you’ll find plenty of grown adults today who will admit to openly sobbing at that scene. Yet despite all the horrors Toy Story 3 made a wonderful ending for the series, and we don’t talk about Toy Story 4.


A vision of hell in the Fantasia 'Night on Bald Mountain' sequence (Disney)

I watched Fantasia a lot as a child but there was one big rule in my household: you had to turn the tape off before you reached the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence. I was told it was the scariest, most terrifying, most traumatizing thing to ever be put on film and I was one hundred percent not allowed to watch it. Well, eventually I did watch it and it was … ABSOLUTELY the scariest, most terrifying, most traumatizing thing to ever be put on film. Dammit.

Monster House

A small boy stands in front of the Monster House (Columbia Pictures)
(Columbia Pictures)

Within the first ten minutes of Monster House the main character is traumatized when his nasty neighbor has a heart attack and nearly dies in front of him. I know how he feels. This movie is an underrated gem of animation but it’s just scare after scare after scare. It has malice, menace, alleged cannibalism, horrible deaths and, perhaps worst of all for kids, completely useless adults who make things worse rather than better.

All Dogs Go to Heaven

The Hellhound from All Dogs Go to Heaven (Don Bluth Productions)
(Don Bluth Productions)

Just a cute little talking dog movie that happens to involve Hell. Hell and demons and kidnapping and piranha-based torture and just, every too-much-for-kids thing you can think of. It may have a reasonably happy ending but jeez, Don Bluth, what was going on in your head when you made this one? Unfortunately, this film is notable for something far more distressing than just, “it’s scary”⁠—the little girl who played Anne-Marie, Judith Barsi, was murdered by her abusive father in 1988 and this was her last film. This movie’s theme song “Love Survives” is dedicated to her.

The Pagemaster

An animated book alongside an animated, screaming Macaulay Culkin (Twentieth Century Fox)
(Twentieth Century Fox)

Okay, having this film on the list might be cheating a little because it’s not all animated, it has live-action segments. But oh man, did it reduce me to a blubbering mess when I was a child. The movie is all about how Macaulay Culkin learns to be less afraid of things but it made me MORE afraid of things, so it failed there. It also failed at the box office, so there was never a Pagemaster 2 to frighten any children further.


Four cute little doll people standing in an apocalyptic scene (Focus Features)
(Focus Features)

Awww, look at how cute those little guys are! Oh wait, are we in the apocalypse? Hang on, there was a NUCLEAR WAR that KILLED EVERYONE? There are no humans left?! What are those evil-looking machines doing? Oh my god the little guys are DYING?! Such is the horrifying experience of watching 9. It’s a very good film, and it has a fantastic voice cast that includes Elijah Wood and Christopher Plummer, but damn.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Judge Frollo smiling evilly through fire and smoke (Disney)

The movie that to this day is considered by many to be Disney’s darkest film. It’s easy to see why. The horror in this one comes not from anything supernatural but from the unfortunately very real concepts of hate and prejudice that cause a lust-crazed judge to try and burn a woman alive. It has a happy ending⁠ but all the main characters have to undergo endless amounts of trauma and near-death experiences to get there. There are also some singing comedy gargoyles because it is a Disney film after all.

Spirited Away

Chihiro facing the spirit No-Face (Studio Ghibli)
(Studio Ghibli)

Spirited Away is absolutely a masterpiece but it’s a masterpiece you gotta warn a kid about in advance. Chihiro’s parents get turned into pigs right at the beginning of the movie so she has a truly horrible time before learning to navigate the new world she’s found herself in. And sure, No-Face turns out to be an ally in the end, but before that he goes on an eating-people spree. And eventually vomits them back up. Folks, maybe don’t watch this movie while snacking.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack Skellington and Sally hold hands (Disney)

I’m so sorry to all Nightmare Before Christmas fans out there but I still to this day cannot watch this movie. I’m just so unnerved by the stop motion and the creepiness of it all. It doesn’t help that this is another one I was totally forbidden to watch as a kid so naturally, my imagination warped it into something much worse than it actually was. Still, as the opening song says, life’s no fun without a good scare.

(featured image: Focus Features)

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Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.